Casting “The Man With Bogart’s Face” as Phillip Marlowe, the role defined by Humphrey Bogart, is an attention grabber. In Theatre Rapport’s production of Raymond Chandler’s “The Little Sister,” Robert Sacchi doesn’t so much perform the role of Marlowe as he re-creates Bogart-as-Marlowe, but the result is entertaining enough.
Other actors have tackled the role of Chandler’s cynical P.I., but the role remains Bogie’s. Sacchi, who not only looks but speaks like Bogart, does nothing to make the part his own, remaining content to impersonate rather than act.
The twisted plot of this tale of concealed identities and missing persons is the least important ingredient of Chandler’s story. The writer’s descriptive language, always the strength of his books, survives here: Adapters Stuart Gordon and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon give Marlowe a film-like voiceover narrative taken straight from the novel.
In fact, the whole production comes across as a film brought to life. (It is described in the program as “a film noir mystery thriller for the stage.”) Art Sparks’ design sets the stage in shades of black and white in every detail, down to white tulips in a black bowl and makeup that makes the women look somewhat ghoulish.
While this part of the design is effective and well done, not enough attention is given to differentiating the numerous hotel rooms and apartments that are created on the half of the stage not given over to Marlowe’s office. All the rooms look the same, and it is frequently difficult to tell where the action is supposed to be taking place.
But trying to follow the plot of “Little Sister” only leads to confusion anyway. Better to sit back and watch Sacchi matching wits with icy starlet Mavis Weld (Cynthia Speer) or trying to figure studio honcho Sheridan Ballou (played with appropriate bluster by Jerry Neill).
Cops Christy French (the excellent Mike Kacey) and Fred Beifus (Tyler Hinds, who tends to swallow his dialogue) are conventionally brash, although French’s speech in the second act about the travails of police life is outstanding in both writing and delivery.
Director Vince Di Vincenzo needs to pay attention to his actors’ enunciation; Sacchi in particular mispronounces words. And it is impossible to tell if Eleni Makras’ awful Spanish accent is deliberate or just plain bad.
However, this entertaining production overcomes its flaws, mostly on the strength and intrigue of Sacchi’s performance. It’s almost like watching Bogie himself.